Review: Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Love, Interrupted: Steve Rogers, Bucky Barnes, and a jilted Iron third wheel…

I like so many things about this movie. Although it may not be quite as good as its predecessor, Captain America: Winter Soldier, directors the Russo Brothers have managed to accomplish even more here than in that film. The number of moving parts alone is intimidating, and yet they manage to balance everything pretty much perfectly: introducing characters, establishing relationships and motivations, drama, humour… it’s pretty staggering. It’s also incredibly tight: I don’t want to look away even for a second, because I could miss anything from a major plot point to a small detail of emotional nuance. In one scene, we’re introduced to Prince T’chala and his father the King, we feel their emotional bond, and the king’s death mere moments later feels tragic and sad. That’s pretty incredible – in any movie generally, and particularly in a comic book movie which sets out to do so, so much. The script, direction and performances (I really like Chadwick Boseman, and I suspect he’s a superhuman in real life) are all great. And boy, I cannot wait for Black Panther.

I also enjoy the action. Winter Soldier was great in this department, its style of fight choreography and direction (even if the framing and editing make it difficult at times to follow the action), and its narrative function of quickly showing us how much Steve Rogers had adapted to the modern world since his WWII adventures in Captain America: The First Avenger and his new millennium team up with The Avengers. The style in Civil War is a bit flashier, a bit less earthy, but that reflects the range of characters in these fight scenes here.

Tom Holland‘s Peter Parker is adorable. Great chemistry with RDJ / Tony Stark.

And the editing: wow. If the script is watertight, then the editing is the vacuum seal. Ok, I can’t really run with that metaphor, but yeah. Perhaps not so much in the action scenes, though – they’re difficult to follow at points, which is a shame because the choreography looks cool, and how is this still happening in a world where Mad Max: Fury Road took everyone to school on how to make quick-cut action easy to follow?

I also really enjoyed the 1991 device. The flashback scene is dealt out throughout the film, with new information added with each iteration. At the beginning, the precise midpoint of the film, and then as the catalyst for the final fight scene – a final battle which is surprisingly, thankfully, small-scale. The final battle scene in most comic book movies usually bores me: too overblown, too much CG, pulls me right out of it. Here, we have three guys laying serious blows into eachother, just brawling. It makes it equally surprising that the big, multi-superhero fight scene isn’t the finale but rather the end of the second act. It’s fun, I think, mainly because it highlights the silliness of the big climactic battle scenes in most comic movies. I don’t know if that was the aim here necessarily, but it sure feels like it in moments like Spider-Man pointing out that Cap’s shield obeys no laws of physics.

And, perhaps not the most obvious element in the mix: Daniel Brühl‘s performance as Zemo. Its mixture of sinister and sympathetic qualities, which make his ultimate reveal all the more convincing, is one I find understatedly amazing, and I enjoy it more with each viewing.

PS is the use of Alt-J’s ‘Left Hand’s Free’ the music supervisor’s cheeky dig at Bucky losing his arm?

Further Viewing

Films & Stuff‘s beautifully-produced, and in particular eloquently-scripted, look at that smaller-scale final fight scene: why it works within the film, and how it subverts the Marvel Studios formula: